Ryan Whirty: Homer Plessy receives pardon 130 years later
From the Louisiana Weekly, news that justice has finally been done for Homer Plessy, whose case made segregation the law of the land for decades.
In 1892, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge John Howard Ferguson oversaw the case of Homer Plessy. With Plessy’s conviction for violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890, which established segregated seating on passenger trains, his historical fate was sealed.
But when Plessy, a Black Creole man, was found guilty of refusing to leave a whites-only East Louisiana Railroad train car at the Press Street Depot – today the site is located in what is now the Bywater neighborhood – the fates of millions of African Americans in the Jim Crow South were cast in stone as well.
Homer Plessy appealed the case, which ended up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, when the highest court of the land upheld Plessy’s guilty plea with its infamous “separate but equal” doctrine, which codified segregation legally and, in effect, doomed generations of Black Americans to second-class status.
But now, Keith, Homer Plessy’s great-great-first cousin, and Phoebe, Judge Ferguson’s great-great-grand-daughter, joined together on a mission to wipe Homer Plessy’s criminal slate clean – and place on display the type of social, racial and emotional reconciliation that has taken place since 1954, when the Supreme Court finally overturned Plessy v. Ferguson with the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that struck down Jim Crow laws as unconstitutional.
Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson’s drive to right a terrible, devastating wrong came to full fruition last month, when they appeared before the Louisiana Pardon Board to ask the board to extend a pardon to Homer Plessy for his conviction in 1890. The board swiftly agreed with the pair and voted unanimously on Nov. 12 to pardon Homer Plessy.
The descendants of the central figures in the original 1890 case said the work and time they put into receiving a pardon for Homer Plessy was more than worth it to absolve Homer Plessy and, however symbolically, reframe a dark portion of our country’s past.